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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Soldier's Devotion to Prayer
Text:Ephesians 6:18-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-05-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 124:1,2,3                                                                                      

Ps 130:3,4

Reading – Ephesians 6

Ps 18:1,9,11

Sermon – Ephesians 6:18-20

Hy 63:3,7,8

Hy 14:1,8,10

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, I wonder how your fight against the devil went this past week? If you look back, and consider the temptations that you faced, how did you go? Did you ever let fear and worry undermine your faith? Were you pierced by fiery darts of pride or sexual impurity, or did you get beaten up by anger or discontent?

I am certain that each of us had moments where we were pushed hard by the devil, even where we chose to surrender. Last week there were surely times where didn’t rely as fully as we should have on “the strength of the Lord and the power of his might,” and so we sinned once again. Now, let’s remember the precious truth that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

But it’s a struggle, isn’t it?—sometimes a losing struggle. And it’s not for lack of equipment. We’ve got the six pieces of God’s own armour, battle-tested and reliable. Each week, each day, we could even go through them, just like a soldier running through a checklist before a battle. Wearing your belt of truth? Check. Breastplate of righteousness? Check. Feet shod with the gospel of peace? Yes. Holding the shield of faith? Check. Helmet of salvation? Check. Sword of the Spirit? It’s at hand, and ready to go.

We are covered, fully equipped. But something more is needed. It is prayer. If you re-read this section on the armour of God, you’ll notice that this is actually Paul’s biggest point. Towards the end of the passage, he leaves the metaphor of armour and he speaks plainly. And he is most emphatic, for he repeats the word “all” four times in just one verse: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication… being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).

As the apostle draws his letter to a close, this is what he wants to leave with us, the truth that standing firm and praying constantly belong together—they’re inseparable. If you will stand, you must pray! All the spiritual equipment in the world is useless without prayer, because it is prayer that connects us to the mighty strength of the Lord! It is prayer that expresses our deep dependence on God, even when we are in the throes of the devil’s attacks. I preach God’s Word to you from Ephesians 6:18-20,

Our spiritual warfare requires devotion to prayer:

  1. with prayers that are constant and watchful
  2. with prayers for the advance of the gospel

 

1) with prayers that are constant and watchful: One of the Bible’s most challenging lessons about prayer is just how much God wants us to pray. Scripture speaks of this in several places, such as Luke 18:1, where Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow with this message: “that people always ought to pray and not lose heart.” It’s in Romans 12:12 as well, part of the Spirit’s marching orders for the Christian life: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continue steadfastly in prayer.” Just one more text, from Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication… let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). Pray without ceasing!

Our text has the same message: “[Pray] always.” For God isn’t looking for a certain quantity of prayer, as if He has set a minimum amount that we need to meet each day. That’s what we’d prefer: “Well, as long as I pray at every meal, and at the beginning of every class or meeting, or as long as I pray at the day’s end, I’m doing OK.” Perhaps we will supplement our prayer levels with a few when we’re dealing with a crisis or some anxiety. But generally, we don’t want to overdo the prayer bit. “There’s the saying, ‘Pray and work.’ So I’m working!”

Here (as always) we need to get to the heart of the activity that God is commanding us to do. It’s never about the activity as such—like Sunday worship—and it’s never about the outward behavior or the habit—like doing devotions every morning—but it’s what that activity says about your relationship to God.

And “praying always” is about “trusting always.” It’s about seeking him always, when we learn to surrender every pursuit, and every care, and every plan, and every joy to him. Prayer is for every occasion, because God wants us to know that every incident and happening of our life can be brought to him.

The command to pray without ceasing means that God wants us to constantly depend on him as our Father, and then to show that dependence through seeking his face in love, calling on his name from the heart, approaching the throne through Christ. It is God’s will that we develop prayer into an unbreakable habit, a discipline that we maintain day by day, because it shows that the Lord is our life.

So when we listen to our text, don’t hear it as a heavy requirement. “That’s a whole lot of praying that we’ve got to do!” Instead, hear this command as a gracious privilege. We’re invited to approach the throne. We’ve been given an open line to heaven, granted a direct link to the almighty strength of the Father. So it’s just not possible to pray too much.

Pray always “with all prayer and supplication.” Here’s the next instance of the word “all” in our text. We pray with prayer and supplication. If “prayer” is a general word for our humble speaking with the Lord, then “supplication” implies that we’re asking God for something specific. We are allowed to bring to our Father a very particular need in our family, and we can carry to him a certain care on our heart, whatever it is—and He listens and will answer.

All of this is true in general, of course, that as God’s children we should delight in speaking with our loving Father as often as we can. But let’s now relate this truth to what Paul has been explaining: the hazards and perils of spiritual warfare.

If you look at the first word of verse 18, “praying,” you see that it’s actually an activity that is going on at exactly the same time as the taking up and putting on of armour. At the very same time as you gird your waist, and put on the breastplate, and take up the shield of faith, and so on, this is what you should be doing: praying always. Each piece of armour needs to be secured and fastened tight through prayer.

Beloved, we must pray continually because our struggle with the powers of darkness is never-ending. Earlier in this chapter we can read about the intimidating and at times overwhelming force of Satan’s attacks. Backing him up he’s got principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual hosts of wickedness—and they’re hard at work, corrupting the world we live in and terrorizing the people of Christ. So we need to pray constantly.

And pray with “supplication.” As we just said, supplication is specific. Satan is a master of all kinds of evil, and he likes to target us in particular ways. He targets us according to our character, according to our weakness and experience, and at the moments that he sees as opportune. This requires us to be watchful for the devil’s schemes, and it also requires us to be deliberate in praying for God’s help.

More than simply pray, “God, lead me not into temptation,” it is good to pray, “God, keep me from growing bitter toward my dad. Strengthen me to say no to this impurity. Please give me courage to do the right thing in this disagreement.” Whatever the fight is, whatever the devil’s particular temptation, praying specifically shows God that you’re aware of the threat, and that you need his help to confront it. Make supplications that reflect the struggles you actually have—and in his love God will answer.

Paul adds another little phrase that we should underline: “Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (v 18). We have a stubborn tendency to overemphasize human effort, even in the fight against sin. We count on our strength of character, or our self-control, or the sin-avoidance strategies that we’ve developed. But there is no real praying, and no real wrestling with the devil, unless it’s “in the Spirit.” Constantly we need his presence.

Only by living in the power of the Holy Spirit do we receive grace to stand fast. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians, “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (5:16). When God the Holy Spirit fills you, when his Word is on your mind and in your heart, you have an immense resource for the fight against sin, for He is almighty and He is holy. Let this be a prayer that we do not neglect, that we ask God daily for the gift of his Spirit. In the battle, ask for the Spirit of Christ to keep changing you, to strengthen you, to help you discern.

The soldier of Christ needs constant prayer, and he needs watchful prayer. “Pray,” our text says, “being watchful to this end” (v 18). If you’re at war, right on the frontlines of battle, or if you’re a watchman on the walls, the very last thing you should do is close your eyes. The enemy is near, he is active, and he’s deadly. So be watchful!

Beloved, consider where the devil is probably aiming his attack at you—which weak point of yours does he have in view? Or when is he most likely to strike? Is it when you’re tired? Frustrated? Sitting at home, bored? Be watchful, and then pray.

This reminds us of Jesus’ words to his slumbering disciples in the garden. He rebuked them, “Are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38). They had to remain alert, not just because Judas and the chief priests were approaching, but because Satan was about to tempt them. In their great fear they’d be tempted to fall away and even to deny Christ, and that’s what happened.

Beloved, we need to hear Jesus’ words, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” For at times, we can become careless in the fight. After one or two small victories, after a pretty good week, we feel like we’re standing firm and that the devil has probably moved on to softer targets than us. But be watchful. We’re used to praying with our eyes closed, but in a certain sense we must pray with our eyes wide open: the devil is always on the prowl.

The reality is that spiritual warfare is tiring, for day after day, year by year, Satan is lurking. Won’t he ever give up?! Our warfare can also be discouraging—sometimes we fail miserably, and we despair. In our guilt and frustration, we feel useless. This is why we’re also commanded to pray “with all perseverance”—notice another “all.” In the life-long grind of daily wrestling with the devil, demonstrate not just perseverance, but all perseverance. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. But persevere in prayer, so that you persevere in the fight.

“Pray,” says the Spirit, “with… supplication for all the saints.” The occasions for prayer are unlimited: always! And the subjects for prayer are also unlimited: all the saints! That’s the fourth “all,” showing that our prayers should have a wide reach. It’s not good if we think only of our own spiritual conflict, but we should be concerned for the entire church. Pray for your brothers and sisters, for those who are also daily battling with the devil.

It’s probably true that our prayers are too much for ourselves, and too little for others. But by faith we’re joined together as fellow soldiers, filled with one Spirit, serving one Lord. As we put on the armour of God, we should care for those others who are also putting it on, where we want to stand with them and encourage and help them. Soldiers are known for being fiercely devoted to one another—leaving no one behind, standing together as a band of brothers. Soldiers of Christ too, should be deeply dedicated to each other.

Pray “for all the saints.” Of course, if you’ll pray for the saints, you need to know something about the saints. Brother, how can I pray for you? Sister, what’s your struggle? Trouble is, we worry a lot about how other people will look at us: “What if they see me as I really am? What if they know I’m actually weak?” So we try conceal our sins and temptations from others. This is what Satan wants, to have a man all by himself, standing alone.

But let us stand together in Christ. If you’re a struggling with a weakness or an enticement to sin that seems overpowering, please be willing to share this with someone, someone who can encourage and guide and support you. God wants us to help each other. God wants us to pray together, for then you realize you’re not alone. Our spiritual warfare requires devotion to prayer, with prayers that are constant and watchful, and…

 

2) with prayers for the advance of the gospel: If you look back in Ephesians, there’s two places where Paul prays for his congregation. In chapter 1, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that God… may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (vv 16-17). And again in chapter 3 he prays, “I bow my knees to the Father… that he would grant you… to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (vv 14-16).

Paul knew the value of prayer, and this is why he often prayed for the believers. And this is why Paul often asked that they would pray for him. Take the brief example in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, where he says, “Brothers, pray for us.”

Here too, in these closing words, Paul requests prayer: “And [pray] for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19). Paul understands that he must depend on God’s help and strength just as much as anyone else, that if he’s going to equip the soldiers of Christ through his preaching, he’ll need all the resources of heaven behind him.

Pray, “that utterance may be given to me.” Every preacher who has ever been nervous before ascending the pulpit can relate to these words. We ask that God would give us the words, that He would grant us the courage. We ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to speak God’s Word freely, clearly, and boldly. It is only through the Lord’s enabling work that a preacher can faithfully and powerfully proclaim the message of the gospel.

If you think about, it’s actually remarkable that this is Paul’s main prayer request. Recall that he’s in prison in Rome—in the very next verse he will mention his “chains.” So what would you expect Paul to pray for? Freedom? Release? Perhaps another miraculous escape like in Philippi. But he requests not his own comfort, but that he may yet be allowed to tell more people about God’s amazing love in Christ. We hear a similar prayer request in Colossians 4:3-4, “Pray for us that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”

You can tell that Paul is conscious that God has entrusted him with a great responsibility, the task of proclaiming the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. If a person accepts this message by faith, they will be saved from the clutches of Satan and granted life eternal. This task then, puts Paul right at the forefront of the spiritual battle. Whenever he shared this gospel, kingdoms were at war, eternal things were at stake. So he desires that whenever he has a chance to speak, he’ll receive the right words from God.

This prayer request teaches us about the importance of praying for the preaching of the gospel. Preaching can often look like a solo effort—it’s just one man at the front, presenting the sermon that he worked on, by himself, all week long. But it’s not an individual effort, for preaching requires a lot of prayer. Not just the prayers of the preacher, but the prayers of the entire congregation.

Pray to God, “that utterance may be given to me.” The task of preparing and delivering a sermon simply cannot be done without the blessing of God. There is so much that a preacher needs for the work: spiritual insight, mental clarity, physical strength. He needs courage, faithfulness, boldness. He needs joy, and patience, and love.

And remember again how we’re at war. God has made the preaching of the Word so significant to the health of a congregation, to the strength of his believers. And so you can be sure that Satan will attack the preaching—and he will attack the preacher. Pray for a resistance of the devil’s temptations, whatever form these temptations take: pride, laziness, impurity, discontent. Pray for watchfulness, for perseverance, for a full equipping with the armour of God. Pray steadfastly, for no preacher can continue and thrive unless his people are upholding him in prayer.

The gospel will not advance except through prayer. That is true here in this congregation, and it is true everywhere. Pray for the ministry of the gospel in other places too, among our sister churches, and on the mission fields, and in the countless places we don’t know about. Pray that the true Word will be preached and that it will be received by many in faith.

Coming back to Paul’s request, it may relate particularly to his upcoming trial. He was probably hoping to speak before a representative of the emperor. He prays that he may receive boldness in such a setting—see how he prays for that twice, in verse 19 (“that I may open my mouth boldly”) and verse 20 (“that in it I may speak boldly”). Being in prison probably meant there was a real temptation to bow to the fear of man. Maybe if he toned down the gospel a bit, if he wasn’t so absolute about Jesus, he’d get a more favourable answer. 

Fear of man can still tempt preachers today. Preaching always evokes a reaction, stirs up a response. And a preacher can be aware of the reaction he’s getting, and perhaps he wants to win praise, or he wants to avoid criticism, or he wants to please certain people in his audience. So he begins to moderate the message, remove some of the offense, even leave the truth. But a preacher must be bold. And he’ll be bold if he simply and faithfully preaches the Word that God has set before him. So pray for boldness, that I may always speak God’s truth to you, plainly and truly.

In the last verse that we’ll look at from this letter, Paul drops a quiet reminder about his personal condition. He has said very little about himself over these six chapters—in fact, the only thing he’s really shared is this fact, that he’s a prisoner (3:1; 4:1). He says it again now, “I am an ambassador in chains” (v 20). He describes his situation not to gain their sympathy, but to invite their prayers. Paul needs strength to persevere.

And though Paul is in prison, he still feels the dignity of his position as a preacher. For see what he calls himself, “an ambassador.” Just like today, an ambassador in the first century was a representative for his king and country. Rome was full of ambassadors, men sent to the capital to make peace and negotiate deals. In the same way, Paul had been entrusted with a word from his king, a message of peace for all people from the Lord God.

As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as through God were pleading through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.” That was Paul the ambassador’s message, and that remains the message of preachers and ambassadors today. Be reconciled to God, for by nature, we don’t have peace with our Creator. Be reconciled to God, for by nature, we’re his enemies and haters. But Christ himself is our peace. Through him “we have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18).

So with these closing words, Paul reminds the Ephesians and he reminds us that we have a king in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that He is victorious! He has given us peace with God, and now He rides with us in our spiritual warfare, fighting for us and winning. So pray for his strength. Pray for his Spirit. Pray for his gospel to advance, in your own life, in the church, and in all the world!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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